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Rethinking concussion

General Manager of Player Relations for the AFL Players’ Association, Ian Prendergast conducted a study tour into concussion in 2012. He met with players’ associations and medical researchers in the USA to examine concussion management strategies and studies into the long-term effects of head trauma in collision sports.

The Players’ Association recognises concussion as one of the most significant issues for players both past and present.

The ‘PA is currently in the process of finalising an agreement with the AFL and Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health to research the short and long-term effects concussion may have on players.

“Improving the screening process to identify players at risk of long-term damage is one of our key focuses” – Prendergast

With the Players’ Association’s assistance, the Florey Institute will seek feedback from former players – who are members of our Alumni – through a survey in coming months; those who require further assistance will be referred to experts for further assessment and support to identify long-term health concerns.

Improving the screening process to identify players at risk of long-term damage is one of our key focuses relating to concussion, as is enhancing decision-making regarding concussed players returning to the field or training. We will continue to research and investigate concussion, but there are several significant things we already know.

Firstly, we know there needs to be a cultural shift in the way players, and everyone involved in football, respect concussion. A player who returns to the field after suffering a concussion is not courageous – he is crazy, particularly given what we know about the impact a secondary concussion can have on a player’s long-term health. Similarly, hiding concussion symptoms from a club doctor is extremely naive, not brave.

The Players’ Association supports the role of club doctors, who take a conservative approach when assessing players for concussion. The concussion sub rule, which was introduced in 2013, was a step forward in alleviating the pressure around dealing with players suspected of having concussion; it’s a rule the ‘PA supports.

Players are educated about the effects of concussion each year. We believe it’s important that clubs’ leaders and ‘PA delegates take ownership of their club’s culture regarding this issue.

We are encouraging players to keep an eye out for each other to ensure the measures put in place to mitigate the risks of this injury are respected.

It’s an ongoing process – as we know players will continue to be instinctively courageous on the football field – but it is critical that players and clubs adopt a common-sense approach to concussion.

We have been encouraged by former-players such as Jude Bolton, David Parkin and Tom Harley speaking out about this issue, as it will help in shifting people’s mindsets and will result in the football world better understanding the need to treat concussion seriously.